5 Tips for Safe Kayaking


This week’s guest post is written by Don Rice, whose desire to ensure safe paddling led him to achieve certification with the American Canoe Association as a kayak instructor and tour leader. He also holds more than 10 certifications from the BCU, ACA and Mountaineers kayak programs. Don has canoed, surfed, and kayaked on the Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean coasts. He now resides on the States’ side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca where he has owned and operated Dungeness Kayaking since 2002.

What to do before launching
Before launching in a kayak, the weather, tides/current, trip distance, and bail outs should be routinely checked and someone should be notified of your plans.  Many incidents occur on the water because the precautions necessary to ensure a safe and enjoyable kayaking experience – even for a short paddle – were not taken.

What gear to carry and why
Following is a list of essential items that should be found in each person’s kayak. Carrying these items will not only ensure your ability to respond to most situations, but may also enable you to help someone else.

– First Aid Kit (know what’s in it and how to use what’s there)
– TP
–  Boat Repair Kit (& duct tape)
– VHF Radio (check to make sure it is charged)
– Paddle and a spare paddle (secured on the kayak deck)
– Spare warm clothes (fleece shirt, pants, gloves & hat) in a dry bag
– Sleeping bag in a dry bag
– Space blanket
– Bivy sack/igloo
– Rain jacket or cag and gloves
– Bilge pump
– Paddle float
– Sponge
– Spare rope
– Stirrup
– Light or headlamp
– Chart of area planning to paddle with course marked
– Drinking water
– Sunglasses w/ strap
I also wear a tow belt.

The following items should be carried on the paddler’s PFD:

–  Flare
– Glow stick
– Whistle
– Mirror
– Cell phone (in a dry bag)
– Watch
– Light
– Energy bar
– Lip balm
– Head band or hood

Some of these items may not fit in your PFD—in which case you may need to store them in your day hatch or in an under deck bag as I do —which attaches under my front deck and sits between my knees.  You should have some means of communication on your PFD — either a cell phone or a VHF radio and a whistle and glow stick.  I also carry a bit of duct tape in my PFD and a knife.


What to wear and why
The paddler should be wearing a wet or dry suit.  Immersion wear is critical to survival in cold water.  One never knows when you may have to spend some time in the water, and if you do not wear a wet or a dry suit in the Pacific Northwest where the water temperature is between 45 and 55 degrees, you are taking a really big risk with your life.

How to prevent and deal with hypothermia
An abnormally low core temperature is the condition of hypothermia. In this condition normal muscular and mental abilities are impaired. If the condition continues to deteriorate, it will lead to death. Everyone is different and will succumb to hypothermia differently. Some people will show signs sooner in the process and some later. Given the same conditions, some people will get hypothermia while others will not. Some people will not indicate, except by the most obscure clues, that they are suffering from hypothermia.

Self-awareness is VERY important. If you are a kayaker, you need to recognize the signs of hypothermia in yourself AND let others know. If you are by yourself, you need to know how to self-treat/self-recover from hypothermia. The signs below are enough to mandate corrective action, which requires that you retain or produce more heat. It is critical that each person monitors his or her own body temperature and learns to recognize the signs in order to prevent mild hypothermia: core temperature 98.6 – 96 degrees F.

1) Cold sensation begins – getting goose bumps, feel cold, hands, nose, or feet are numb.
2) Shivering – not under voluntary control.
3) Can’t do complex motor functions – can walk and talk but paddling strokes are sloppy.

Safe kayaking is also about being aware of and honest with yourself.  Too often someone is either embarrassed or too proud to ask for help or notify the leader of possible hypothermia.

Cold water kills.  Don’t make the news.  Be smart, dress properly and know how to stay safe.


PORT TOWNSEND – A Seattle man has died and a Bellevue man was discharged from a Seattle hospital on Monday after a two-person recreational kayak they rented capsized in Port Townsend Bay one-half mile offshore.
By Evan Cael, Peninsula Daily News
(August 14, 2007)

How to prevent a capsize
Capsizes happen. Some happen purposely while others happen because of rough water conditions combined with inexperience or the lack of skills to deal with the conditions.  The smart paddler will avoid water conditions that exceed his or her abilities — when possible.  And we can all improve our skills so that when the conditions do change we can competently deal with keeping our boat upright.  Take instruction and paddle with someone who can teach necessary skills so you can enjoy kayaking safely.  Practicing rescues is as valuable as practicing each of the strokes you have been taught.  When was the last time you practiced a self-rescue? When was the last time you took a class or attended a kayak symposium?